Who Were The Kiowa Indian Tribe?

Learn about the cultire, history, way of life and current situation of this ancient people.

The Kiowa Indians were originally dwellers of the Columbia River in the Kootenay Region of British Columbia, Canada. Their first interaction with the white man came in about 1700, when British and French traders happened upon them. Around 1700 the Kiowa moved to the Upper Yellowstone, in what is now western Montana. Shortly thereafter a dispute between two prominent chiefs resulted in one band withdrawing from the main body and going to the northwest.

The main body of Kiowa traveled to the southeast, where they came into contact with the Crow Indians. Forming an alliance with the Crow, the Kiowa acquired two things that were to become indispensable in the future life - the horse and the sacred Sun Dance. The Kiowa settled to the east of the Crow in the Black Hills around 1780. The Kiowa, however, were a migratory people. After a time they continued to move through the Western States. They ended up on the southern plains and became allies to the Comanche.

Like most Native American peoples the Kiowa were deeply religious. After acquiring the Sun Dance from the Crows, this ceremony became the center of their worship. The Sun Dance was celebrated once per year. It would bring together all of the Kiowa people, who, up until then, would live in small autonomous bands. The Sun Dance, then, served as the catalyst for an annual renewal of tribal connections. It would be accompanied by marriage ceremonies, tribal councils and family reunions. The Sun Dance would be preceded by a great tribal bison hunt.

Into the traditional Sun Dance ceremony the Kiowa incorporated a sacred aspect of their pre Crow religion - the "˜Ten Bundles' Medicine Bundles. Each of these sacred bundles would have its own tipi erected for the duration of the Sun Dance. The Kiowa also had a sacred medicine doll, or "˜tai-me', which also featured prominently in the Sun Dance.

Prior to their removal to Oklahoma as a result of the Medicine Lodge Treaty, the Kiowa were separated into northern and southern divisions. Among each division were six sub-tribes. These were organised according to family divisions. Each tribe had its own leader and would operate as an independent body. There was a social class of sorts operating within Kiowa society. Status was in accordance with wealth and family connection. A person could rise through the ranks of society by being a skilful hunter or worker and performing charitable deeds for others. Conversely, a person could lose their standing in society by performing dishonourable deeds.

As with other plains tribes the Kiowa relied heavily on the bison for their food as well as to provide many of the raw materials for their way of life. Every part of the animal would be utilised by the Kiowa. They never killed the bison wantonly and were disgusted to see the white man do so.

The Kiowa were a male dominated society. Families could gain prominence through the prowess and fearlessness of their male members. Generally speaking the Kiowa man was in control of everything that affected the lives of the Kiowa people away from the camp. The women were in control of everything that took place in and around the camp. Around the camp she was the boss. The woman was also a skilled craftswoman, making beautiful beadwork and clothing.

Today there are about 11,500 Kiowa living in Oklahoma. Some are skilled at making a wide variety of arts and crafts that provide a supplement to their income when sold to tourists. Kiowa artists have long been recognised for their skills. As far back as 1891, Kiowa artists were commissioned to produce artworks for major international exhibitions. In 1968 the Kiowa Tribal council was given authority over specific issues relating to the people, such as health, education and economic development. Under Federal Grant programs many Kiowa youth are now attending colleges and universities. This young generation of Kiowa are, thus, readying themselves for professional careers in the white man's world. In recent decades, however, there has been a growing awareness of Kiowa culture among the younger generation. This has led to a strong cultural identity among young Kiowa people of the 21st Century.

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